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Ryder Captains With A History

MAYNOOTH, IRELAND | Though Paul Mc-Ginley didn’t dare complain, some decent form at the Irish Open came a few days too late. When he really needed to play well at Sunningdale last Monday prior to his trip across to Carton House, he failed to find the scoring touch that could have qualified him for the Open Championship. Returning to Muirield in the Open field, would have put him on equal terms with Tom Watson, his US rival as Ryder Cup captain. Now, their pre-arranged dinner date will be just that, with no competitive follow-up. Even while dreaming the wild dreams of an aspiring professional, McGinley thought it unlikely he would ever cross paths with Watson. “He was regularly winning Open Championships when I was getting into golf as a kid in Dublin,” he said. “And I idolized him. I admired the integrity of the man, the briskness of his play and his courage down the stretch. He always seemed to have an air of authority about him.” As things turned out, he met his idol for the first time in remarkable circumstances in 2001. The occasion was the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club where his caddie was J.P. Fitzgerald, now bagman to Rory McIlroy. “On our first day there, we arrived at the course at 6.30 a.m. for a practice round, jet-lagged,” he recalled. “After I’d hit some warm-up shots, we headed in a thick, morning mist to the first tee. Hardly believing my eyes, who should I see on the other side of a hedge only Watson and his caddie, Bruce Edwards. “My heart skipped a beat. I just stood there, not knowing what to do. Hesitating for about 10 seconds, I eventually plucked up the courage to identify myself as Paul McGinley from Ireland and asked if I could join them. After what seemed an eternity, he looked me straight in the face, extended his hand and said: ‘Paul, Irishmen are always welcome in my company.’ ” One imagines that comment may have been influenced, somewhat, by the fact that Watson happened to have been captain of Ballybunion Golf Club the previous year. McGinley continued: “So, off we went. And at the first par 3, we both hit the green with 6-irons. It’s wet and gooey. Watson’s telling me a story when we reach my pitch mark. I bend down and do a quick repair, one-two-three, and walk off. Continuing with the story, Watson suddenly stopped, walked back a few paces and, talking all the while, re-repaired my pitch mark like a surgeon before tapping it down with his putter. He said nothing, but the point was clear. If you’re going to repair a pitch mark, do it properly. “It was a lesson I’ve never forgotten. Ever since, I repair pitch marks like a surgeon, just like Watson showed me. During that round, he talked eloquently about many things, including his ideas on the game, and Jack Nicklaus. I can’t remember the details. Since then, we’ve played other practice rounds together and had a very cordial relationship, but Muirield will be our first meeting as rival Ryder Cup captains.”


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